Interview By: ANKITA R. KANABAR
Still being remembered for his successful ‘Mary Kom’, director Omang Kumar is now gathering praises for his latest release ‘Sarbjit’. While it’s yet another biopic for him, he confesses that he just looked at it as a good story which needed to be told. In this conversation, the film-maker takes us through the journey of this film….
“I’m hell-bent on changing the image of my actors, that’s my motto for any film that I do”
Were you apprehensive about making ‘Sarbjit’ because a subject like this would have its set of challenges?
This film was supposed to be done four years ago, Sandeep Singh came to me with a script and asked me to make it, but I didn’t like the script. And then Sarbjit also passed away in jail. But looking at the videos of Dalbir Kaur, I thought I should go by her character and portray the film through her. The story is so hard-hitting. I realised, why was I shunning away from this film just because I didn’t want to do another biopic? The responsibility was huge because it’s a very sensitive subject, it’s someone’s life I’m portraying. Also, we just know half of the story, we didn’t know the other side or what happened to him in jail. For me it becomes a challenging subject, the emotions are running so high. When you’re putting it on celluloid, you cannot believe this could happen to someone, but it did. The story was difficult for me to make also in order to get the right tone and language in which it should be depicted.
Does a biopic put a lot of limitation as far as being creative is concerned?
There’s a limitation, yes. But there’s also a sense of power in making people believe what someone has gone through. Especially for the actors! For them, it is a very tough for a role when they have to completely transform themselves into the character, and yet bring in their own interpretation. Aishwarya was not supposed to look like Dalbir Kaur, she was my Dalbir Kaur. Just that her voice and spirit needed to be like Dalbir.
Was it a conscious decision to not make ‘Sarbjit’ look like a docu-drama and make it more audience-friendly?
Absolutely! I want to be entertained, I want to see and make good cinema that leaves people at the edge-of-the-seat and engage them. I want to the viewers on a roller-coaster ride. Having said that, I want to get into the detail of everything – I’ve asked Dalbir Kaur the kind of questions which probably nobody would have. If people see a jail in the film, they should be able to smell it. As a director, I myself have to be attached to all the characters. Acting is what impresses me in every film, so I want to get that right from my actors. Apart from that, look-wise I know how to make the film look good. That has been in-born I think (laughs).
Be it ‘Mary Kom’ or this…the actors in your films have been hugely appreciated…
I’m hell-bent on changing the image of my actors, that’s my motto for any film that I do. The actors get so charged up, they should give their best performance. At that point, Priyanka became Mary Kom. Randeep has done great roles but from now he will be known as Sarbjit. I like transforming people, and show them in a different light than what they’re known for. That’s my battle won. Richa. I thought ‘Sarbjit’ has a very interesting star cast, and people would have never thought of these actors for a film like this. That is what worked for me I think.
“I want to see and make good cinema that leaves people at the edge-of-the-seat and engage them”
A film like this must have been very heavy emotionally for you as a film-maker?
It does affect me and the actors because you know what’s going to happen next, yet you play it out, because they’ve moulded themselves so much in that role. I leave the actors alone and let the surroundings play with them. Those feelings have to come on the spot. Imagine what Sarbjit would go through if he has not met or hugged his family members for 18 years or what his sister would go through. For every scene, the briefing is separate for everyone. The emotional journey is so high, that yes, it drains you. In fact, it all actually started off when the actual Dalbir Kaur narrated the story to us and we all cried. That continued while shooting, while editing and then while seeing the film. So you are re-living it again and again. Maybe their journey will continue in the eyes of the audience also. If it moves people then my job is done. But such experiences make you grow. Now I want to know about other people in the prison as well. And my wife and me are now so attached to Dalbir Kaur and the entire family. As if we are also a part of them.
How have you grown from ‘Mary Kom’ to this film, and as a film-maker, what is it that remains your essence?
From ‘Mary Kom’ to now, I’ve learnt a lot. That was also a biopic and even this one, but not knowing that it’s a biopic. I just wanted to tell this story. As an actor, I want my actors to play the best ever in the life. That makes my cinema interesting. My third film is not a biopic but I challenge my actors in a way that it becomes the best of their life. I’ve learnt a little bit more with this one. I keep saying that I’ve assisted myself in ‘Mary Kom’, learnt from myself, my own mistakes, analyising why and how the film connected with the audience. So this time around, I kind of know what point to hold on to. All said and done, this is not my genre. I am doing it because I want to tell a story. My genre is very crazy, over-the-top. That I’ll probably make in the future.
You’ve already started work on your next project?
I’ve already started the third one which is a psycho-thriller, so once you move on, you come out of a certain zone naturally. That’s human nature.